Ever wondered what would’ve happened if Eve and Lilith, Adam’s wives and antagonists in two distinct creation stories, ever linked up? Step into that timeline at “The Original Riot,” a visceral two-part installation by Lima-based painter and performer Wynnie Mynerva at the New Museum.
Mynerva’s succinct, powerful exhibition—their first solo museum show in the U.S.—is on view through September 17th in the New Museum’s glass-encased first-floor gallery. It centers on the show’s titular artwork: a 70-foot painted mural, Mynerva’s largest yet, in moody magenta with bold red and black interrupted by a passageway into the room’s back corner. There, one of Mynerva’s ribs, surgically removed, completes The First Cut (2023) atop a slender, pole-like brass plinth, its round base engraved with a continuous tangle of Eve’s and Lilith’s bodies.
That tangle echoes Mynerva’s oil painting for the show, which portrays a sensual, imagined story of Eve and Lilith meeting, in which they realize their similarities and consummate their union while animals look on—Mynerva chose to portray those who can procreate without a male. Eve even offers Lilith her own rib as a token of their shared origins, and newfound devotion. The First Cut, meanwhile, appears to provide physical proof of the events in the painting, a relic sacrificed by the artist themself.
Their U.K. debut at London gallery Gathering earlier this year also depicted Lilith and Eve. “The Original Riot,” though, culminates those explorations by proposing an alternative narrative. Read from right to left, as Mynerva intended, the imagined reality unfolds with semi-abstract, vivacious drama.
Mynerva grew up in a religious, Catholic family on Lima’s outskirts in the 1990s. They’ve come to view Christianity as an apparatus of colonial control—and respond by playing with and subverting its restrictions on gender and desire, embracing sexuality. These experiments began with painting their friends having sex in their studio while at Escuela Nacional Autónoma de Bellas Artes del Perú in 2018, Mynerva explained. Since then, their performances have taken a radical and surgical turn: For example, they sewed their vagina shut for “Closing to Open,” their show at Madrid’s Ginsberg Galeria in 2021.
“Wynnie is one of the most fascinating artists of our time,” said New Museum curatorial fellow Bernardo Mosqueira, who organized this show. “There aren’t so many artists whose works can still be disturbing nowadays. Wynnie is definitely one of them, and they use this capacity in a very genuine and generative way.” Mosqueira discovered Mynerva at ARCOmadrid in 2020, and included them in the 2022 exhibition “Eros Rising: Visions of the Erotic in Latin American Art” at the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art in New York.
“We spent months exchanging and sharpening ideas, references, desires,” he continued. Mynerva ultimately painted their mural with impasto oils—a brooding, sumptuous palette refreshed by rich reptile greens—across five segments. They painted all but one segment in the studio before sending them to the museum to be installed on a curved façade, adding a third dimension to their work. The gap in the painting leading to The First Cut appears just before the final act, a metaphorical portal for viewers to enter a space representing the artist’s body.
“I like to describe my practice like the practice of a movie maker,” Mynerva said. “There’s a moment in which the main actors and actresses come in and then the moment of the environment, light, the photography, the elements of the stage.”
While the bone from this work came from Mynerva’s body, it appears like a relic of the myth told in the painting: the bone Eve gives Lilith made real, standing atop that plinth at the height at which it was removed from the artist. The base’s shimmering surface reflects the fresh creation tale engraved upon it. Mynerva explained that in Peru, a person’s girlfriend or fiancée could be referred to as their “rib.” “This myth is fundamental in the language,” they said.
The surgery itself proved a crucial, performative precursor to the presentation. “This show was developed together with the process of surgery,” Mynerva added. “It was directly informed by the pain, the anguish, the recovery.” Very few surgeons in Lima perform this cosmetic procedure, which is usually symmetrical. At first, the artist avoided telling the surgeon why they only wanted one rib removed. Soon enough, though, the surgeon confessed he collects paintings, and was already aware of their work, then offered the procedure for free.
Though it has visceral, perhaps gruesome connotations, Mynerva’s practice resists unsolicited fetishization from viewers. At their work’s foundation, they thwart categorization by balancing performance and painting, striking true communicative synergy between the two.